Loophole: ‘Fermented sugar’ worth R2,5 bln

2011-08-20 00:00

A LOOPHOLE in South Africa’s liquor laws and the banning of cheap “papsak” wine sales has created an industry for dodgy — and potentially life-threatening — “ales” already estimated at being worth some R2,5 billion a year.

So-called “ale” products, described by reputable liquor manufacturers as a “concoction” of fermented sugar, have exploded, particularly in the Western Cape where they are now thought to have overtaken the volumes of “papsak” wine that was sold in foil containers until they were banned in 2007.

Bearing names like Best, Blaster, Cape Best, Hard Val, Blink Jan and Koring my Doring, the products sell for around R30 for a five-litre plastic container. They have an alcohol content of between 10%, with some as high as 15,5%.

There is no regulation or quality control on these products and an independent investigation has linked them to deaths and illnesses among consumers.

Frustrated members of the police’s firearm and beverage unit complained to Media24’s investigations team this week that a loophole allowed the concoctions.

Media24 Investigations has established that there are at least 13 players in the Western Cape’s “ale” industry brewing the liquor in industrial parks and backyard factories.

Various stakeholders in government, social groups and the established wine industry are deeply concerned about the “ale” market, which they estimate is already producing volumes of some 100 million litres a year.

Papsak wine sales hit 66 million litres at their peak in 2002.

Gerard van Rensburg, Western Cape MEC for Agriculture, said he is so concerned about the problem that he contacted national minister Tina Joemat-Petterson suggesting how the law should be rewritten.

Major players in the “ale” business were reluctant to comment this week.

Paarl brothers Siem and Stefan Basson of New Drift Farm, both of whom have repeatedly appeared in court in connection with liquor production charges, declined to speak.

Boet Lehanie, of Stellenbosch Fine Wines, said he would not disclose what goes into his brews.

Helen Starke of Muldersvlei Estate slammed down the phone when asked about her “ale”.

Her son, Ian, claimed they brew no “ales” but make “alcoholic fruit drinks”.

He admitted a product of theirs, John Bright, was recently “suspended” due to irregularities with the label.

Meanwhile, the established industry groups VinPro and Wine Cellars SA are calling for urgent changes to the Liquor Act to define a new class of liquor called a “sugar fermented beverage”, which would limit maximum-alcohol content to six percent, among other provisions.

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